Country Legend, Reckless Kelly Songwriter Pinto Bennett Has Died
“Ain’t two peas in a pod or two beans either. There ain’t but one Pinto Bennett. Thank God. So you best pour your ears full of his knowledge quick as you can. It’ll go straight to your heart.”
–Billy Joe Shaver
Maybe you’ve heard of him, and maybe you haven’t. But his legacy and influence is intertwined with a lot of the music you most certainly have enjoyed over the years. And now a legacy that started in Idaho and stretched all across the country and world has come to a close. He passed suddenly on Tuesday evening, June 29th at around 10 p.m. Bennett had been dealing with heart problems and other health issues for years.
In what regard does the Idaho-born, and Texas-based band Reckless Kelly hold Pinto Bennett? So much so that they recorded an entire album of his songs in the form of 2010’s Somewhere in Time, and he appears on the song “Thelma.” He was their Billy Joe Shaver, so to speak. Bennett was a running buddy of Braun family patriarch Muzzie Bruan, and became a big influence on all the boys who now comprise the principle members of Reckless Kelly and Micky and the Motorcars.
But that’s only scratching the surface. Born in May of 1948 in Mountain Home, Idaho, and raised on a ranch where he was regularly exposed to the music of Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell, Pinto worked as a rancher early in life, and also joined the Navy before falling into the music business, and sending crowds buzzing about this wild man from Idaho that would set crowds on fire.
His music career started in a band called Bobby Jones and the Outlaws, but it was his second band called Tarwater in the 70’s that led Pinto into what would be one of his signature contributions, “Hard Country Music.” Taking a rockin’, rollicking attitude to the music and performance just as much indicative of rock and roll, these weren’t well-mannered country music performances, but something akin to honky tonk punk rock, buoyed by what contemporaries still regarded as quality songs penned by Pinto.
This unique attitude and approach to country music led to Pinto Bennett’s most famous outfit, the Famous Motel Cowboys. Touring all across the world, and even to the UK and Europe, Pinto and the Famous Motel Cowboys shared stages with the likes of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. And even though Nashville and major labels really wanted nothing to do with them, Pinto found a following nonetheless, mostly from the support of his fellow musicians like Lyle Lovett, and a strong following in Europe where his authenticity shined through.
“Pinto Bennett, The Cowboy Kerouac, a psychedelic Faron Young. That’s all I could think about when serving my apprenticeship with the Famous Motel Cowboys,” songwriter and performer Chris Wall recalls. “There was a ferocity in his singing that belied the gentle soul under the red beard. In the Rockies they were legend. When we hit California I think they saw us as a Mongol Horde. The club owners weren’t quite ready for us out there but the crowds loved the raw pounding sound. Fierce drumming, pounding bass and soaring guitars.”
As time went on, Pinto Bennett’s Christian faith came more and more to the forefront, and getting a little too old for the more raucous shows, he formed Trio Pinto to perform with—hailing back to the acoustic roots of the music. As Pinto’s health continued to catch up with him, he stuck around Idaho more and more, where he became both a local hero, and a cult hero nationally as bands like Reckless Kelly helped spread the word of his music and legacy to a new generation of listeners.
Leaving a large legacy of albums, songs, and live performances behind, Pinto Bennett released his final album The Last Saturday Night in 2019.
“To all our family, friends and fans, last night Pinto passed away suddenly at home,” a message from his family reads, posted late morning on June 30th. “He was a great man and will be missed by many. No words can express the sorrow we feel, we appreciate all the love you are sending at this very difficult time.”
Pinto Bennett is survived by three daughters, Danielle, Heather and Michelle, and wife Barbara.
June 30, 2021 @ 10:54 am
What a legend. If you are not familiar with Reckless’s “Somewhere in Time” record, you need to put that on ASAP. I was lucky enough to see him play with Reckless on that tour and it is something I will never forget. RIP Pinto.
June 30, 2021 @ 1:25 pm
Also some of the best songs by Micky and the motorcars were Pinto songs. Carolina Morning, I ain’t in it for the money, and stranger in the mirror. RIP Pinto
June 30, 2021 @ 5:23 pm
Thanks to RK’s primer on him, I have several of his albums, but never got to see him perform. Loved his enigmatic writing style; somehow that phrase “pure quill” seems to describe it. Godspeed, Mr. Bennett.
David Lyle Evans
June 30, 2021 @ 9:37 pm
Thanks for sharing this. I had the good fortune to be the bass player for Tarwater, and played on the first 2 Motel Cowboys records. There was certainly a disturbance in the Force when we learned of his passing. God bless you at Saving County Music, keep up the good work!
June 30, 2021 @ 10:18 pm
One of the greatest that I had the honor and privilege to be around. He is more the what words can say. He was more music sounds and someone I will strive to be
July 1, 2021 @ 11:55 am
A couple of decades ago I was writing bad music reviews for the Boise Weekly and tried to get an interview with Pinto through a 3rd party. He apparently said “I don’t want to have anything to do with that commie rag.” God bless him. Rest In Peace, Pinto.
July 1, 2021 @ 7:07 pm
I grew up just south of Mt Home. Back in the 70’s I was in my single digit years. I remember hearing Tarwater and that “Hard Country Music” playing outside of venues and bars that I couldn’t get into but all the parents left all the kids outside while they went in, ha ha!
Anyway, fast forward to the late 80’s and we would see Pinto play at a little community called Bennett ID and the rodeos there. I’m sure he wasn’t named after that community but it was great seeing and hearing him play there all the same. Rest In Peace Pinto!
August 15, 2021 @ 2:47 pm
Bennett, ID and Bennett Mountain were indeed named for Fred’s ancestors. – childhood friend
August 15, 2021 @ 3:03 pm
Wow! I did not know this. Thank you for sharing that.
July 2, 2021 @ 7:50 am
One of my all time favorite RK tracks is Motel Cowboy Show. “Something stronger would be fine”. RIP legend
Gavin Richard Alan Argue
July 2, 2021 @ 3:02 pm
Thank you for recognizing and celebrating the contributions that he made to our shared interest of real country music. Worried that with the current so called nashville country music hip hop r&b garbage being everywhere that one of our genres true artist and performers but more importantly genuine good guy might be overlooked. To anybody who is just learning about him now do yourselves a favor and give him and the Brauns, Reckless Kelly and Mickey & the Motorcars a listen. Im up in Calgary where this music is about as rare as finding a unicorn wearing a jacket of four leaf clovers. appreciate you giving a true legend the recognition he deserves. prayers and thoughts to his family..
July 4, 2021 @ 1:58 am
I recall seeing him many years ago and buying his album “Pure Quill” . An entertaining and talented performer. A sad loss. My condolences to his family.
July 11, 2021 @ 1:23 pm
There will never be another like him! Reckless Kelly & Mickey and the motorcars are doing a great job keeping his music alive and bless them for it. My cousin Jim Lemmon was the bass player for the Famous Motel Cowboys and past last year as well. It is only in video form now that we can ” see em one more time… ” Thank you for this tribute and God Bless Pinto for spreading the word.
August 4, 2021 @ 1:14 pm
I saw Tarwater a couple times in Spokane back in the 70’s. I liked them alot.
September 29, 2021 @ 2:42 pm
Met Pinto in my home town Halstead in Essex England…Fond memories of a true gentleman..RIP Pinto
January 1, 2022 @ 8:26 pm
New Pinto for years, and of all the fond kisses I remember there’s at least one that nobody will forget, when Pinto would get hold of in his grand bear hug and plant one on ya so you had ta spit Copenhagen out and you weren’t Dippin snuff till after his kiss! You knew you were loved when Pinto took a liking to ya! God Bless Pinto Bennett!
January 29, 2022 @ 2:03 pm
Pinto and Chris Wall passed away within weeks of each other. Pinto had a huge on Chris’ career and talked about every time we met. I knew Chris professionally and was a huge fan of both him and Pinto. RIP to both of you Cowboy Nation heroes.